Magazine article Church & State

Religious Right Rebound?: From Florida to California, Separation Is under Fire

Magazine article Church & State

Religious Right Rebound?: From Florida to California, Separation Is under Fire

Article excerpt

Religious Right leaders have suffered some setbacks in recent months, and church-state separationists should take pride in knowing we helped those events happen. But this is no time to rest on our laurels.

Congress is less fertile ground for Religious Right antics these days, so much of the legislative action attempting to undermine the First Amendment has shifted to state and local governments.

Consider the following developments:

* South Carolina legislators have unanimously passed a law authorizing a new "Christian" license plate. The "I Believe" plate contains a cross and a stained-glass window. It was created by special action of the legislature, completely bypassing the normal procedures.

That's just the beginning. Lawmakers in South Carolina have been on a bit of a theocratic tear lately. One new law in the state permits the display of "heritage" documents--including the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer--at the seat of government.

Another new measure purports to protect government-sponsored prayer before meetings of local government. The law was based almost word for word on a policy drafted by the Alliance Defense Fund, the leading Religious Right legal group.

None of these measures attracted significant opposition. All are being celebrated by the Religious Right, and there is already talk about exporting them to other states.

* Florida residents face a slick, well-funded effort to remove the very concept of church-state separation from the state constitution. Former Gov. Jeb Bush has cleverly manipulated an obscure state tax commission to put two amendments on the ballot that would fling the door wide open to vouchers and other forms of tax aid to religious schools and ministries.

Bush is aided and abetted in his scheme by a former education staffer who attended the militantly fundamentalist Bob Jones University. Religious Right groups have eagerly endorsed the crusade. The Florida battle is being touted as a model to duplicate in other states that have strong church-state separation provisions that the Religious Right would like to eviscerate.

* Louisiana faces yet another attempt to water down the teaching of evolution. A so-called "academic freedom" bill sailed through the legislature with the enthusiastic backing of the Religious Right. The measure would allow teachers to use "supplemental" materials in class when discussing certain topics, among them evolution.

Opponents say the law is just another scheme to bring "intelligent design," the latest variant of creationism, into Louisiana's public schools. Again, this bill has been proposed elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bobby Jindal, a staunch ally of the Religious Right, has pushed through the legislature a voucher bill to subsidize religious and other private schools in New Orleans. …

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